Feb. 21, 2019 | View as webpage


“Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police,” Sir Robert Peel said nearly 200 years ago. What approach to strengthening police-community relationships has been most successful for your agency? Email me at nancy.perry@policeone.com.

Nancy Perry
Editor-in-Chief, Police1

In this issue:

By Chief Joel F. Shults

Current leadership literature emphasizes the importance of teams and collaborative decision-making. In police work, however, collaboration is often interpreted as a lack of confidence or a way to take or shift blame depending on the outcome. In our world – where the time frame for decisions is measured in milliseconds and we have within our reach a belt-load of tools designed to bring a quick end to an adversary’s life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness – the idea that somebody else should get to vote on our course of action is contrary to our instincts.

Be an intentional listener

As a researcher on the subject of community policing, I discovered that while we train officers and leaders about community policing and community policing programs, we seldom teach skills associated with making collaborative decisions.

Shared exploration of police problems – beginning with the question of whether a problem in the community needs a police response as part of the resolution – requires the ability to shift from an autocratic, unilateral decision-making process to a process of intentional listening that disregards one’s own position of strength.

Invite diversity of thought

This is not only true of officers on the street, but for police leaders as well. In an attempt at the collaborative process many leaders fail at an essential component of collaboration that is the meat of a collaboration sandwich.

Think of the ideas for addressing an issue as two slices of bread. One slice is the leader’s ideas, the other slice is comprised of ideas of others who are invited to offer facts or an opinion about the ultimate outcome. The meat of the sandwich is the examination of the problem from various perspectives and the exploration of solutions offered.

To extend the sandwich metaphor, note that the two slices of bread on a sandwich are usually from the same loaf. In other words, when we invite people to join us in making our decisions, we are likely to ask those who will probably have the same world view and basis of opinion as ourselves, because we really aren’t looking for diversity of thought, but for others to agree that out decision was the right one to begin with.

This is not collaboration. It’s not even collaboration lite, it is faux collaboration. Faux collaboration is asking a lot of opinions to give the appearance of collaboration and then doing what you were going to do in the first place. We’ve all been in those meetings!

Move from coercion to collaboration

In policing – whether on the street, at a community meeting, the squad room, or conference room – there is always a tension between our coercive habits and our need to fully engage in collaborative decision-making. I developed the C-10 decision model to facilitate understanding that tension and discovering the optimal strategy for problem-solving.

After a problem has been identified accurately, C-10 begins with a continuum between the first two Cs, coercion (power) and collaboration (engaging in thoughtful discourse to discover solutions).

The Cs in the coercion column include control and compliance in order to achieve conformity. Under the collaboration column are creativity, cooperation and consensus.

The 10th C is completion, which is the end goal identified as the most desirable outcome.

The shared characteristic of each strategy is communication. In coercion, the object of communication is to ensure that the decision-maker’s power and demands are heard and obeyed. In collaboration, the object of communication is to ensure that every voice is heard and understood.

In faux collaboration, coercion is masked by asking for everyone’s input, but only those that align with the decision-maker’s predisposed outcome are heard. The Cs of creativity, cooperation and consensus are missing from the formula. Control, compliance and conformity rule the process while collaboration makes a brief appearance for display only.

There is nothing wrong with decisive, unilateral decisions when the circumstances require and time demands are pressing. In circumstances where others are going to be asked to be invested in a lasting outcome collaborative decisions are often the most sound.

Improving connections with your community:

Uniforms and armored vehicles aside, U.S. law enforcement has much it can learn from military-level training and tactics that could transform operations from a leadership, organizational, and officer safety standpoint. This series looks at what lessons law enforcement should take from the military experience.

By Shaun Ward, D. Mgt.

Effective law enforcement leaders constantly find themselves searching for opportunities to improve police-community relationships. Although leaders develop and implement strategies to achieve this goal, it is a difficult task.

The primary reason strategies fail to improve the police-community relationship is that law enforcement officers may be unaware of a fact the community constituency knows all too well: both leaders and their officers always bring their tacit bias and power to every call for service.

An officer is often the only person on-scene to carry multiple lethal weapons. An officer has a certain bias based on his or her previous experiences. An officer has the legal authority to vastly change the lives of all persons on a service call. Thus, the on-scene position of power is definitely one-sided, of which the public can be angrily aware. However, there are strategies officers can deploy to vastly improve this dynamic and subsequently improve community policing.

Strategy 1: Build an internal community

The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) defines community policing by three components: relationships, organizational transformation and problem solving. Each component expresses the importance of building a community both internally and externally.

In order for community members to feel their police department cares about them and their communities, leaders should build and sustain an effective internal community first. This is accomplished through leaders involving their officers in every part of the decision-making process. Even though final decisions are made by the executives of an organization, involving officers enables them to feel connected to the overall mission of the organization and empowers them to be a stakeholder rather than an employee.

Police leader tip: When police officers accept leadership positions, their priority is their subordinates. If police officers are expected to serve their community, leaders should also serve their subordinates by embracing the practice of servant leadership.

Strategy 2: Understand how people connect

The concept of positionality, which is supported by the reticular activating system of the brain, attempts to explain how humans, consciously or unconsciously, connect with people with whom they share commonalities and interests. Our reticular activating system plays the role of gatekeeper of the information that travels into our conscious mind and how we perceive sensory information every day.

Although police officers, like all humans, have biases based on their background, experiences and what interests them, they must not apply those biases during their decision-making process.

Police leader tip: In order for decisions to be made without bias, leaders must constantly remind officers to focus on the facts and circumstances before them and make decisions as a result of that information.

Strategy 3: Recognize power dynamics

Sworn law enforcement officials have a certain degree of power and influence. It is essential for a sworn officer to understand a power dynamic always exists when he or she responds to a call for service. Knowing that, officers should not focus on exercising that authority as a tool, but rather use facts and circumstances to guide their use of power.

Police leader tip: Leaders may want to consider training strategies that encourage influence to be used proactively and not reactively. For example, letting a person know why they are stopped or why you are at their home encourages transparency. Although the officer has the authority to conduct the vehicle stop or be in someone’s home, being transparent invites cooperation and can show the officer is not abusing their power, thus potentially improving both officer and civilian safety.

Effective community engagement strategies for law enforcement leaders:

3. How to fund FirstNet: Don’t miss the opportunity to take advantage of federal, state and private grants to support all or part of your FirstNet implementation project.

2. Addressing the suicide crisis in law enforcement: 2018 was the third straight year that suicides occurred in greater number than duty deaths. Policing Matters podcast hosts Doug Wyllie and Jim Dudley discuss ways to better help officers nearing crisis.

1. Why LE should be advocates for people with mental illness: A Major County Sheriffs of America report shares innovative practices helping to reduce the arrest and incarceration of individuals living with mental illness in jurisdictions across the country.

You are welcome to share the Police1 Leadership Briefing. Forward this email to your command staff, supervisors and patrol officers; print and post in the roll call room; add a link to your department’s website; or reprint in your organization or regional police association newsletter.

Got a leadership tip, management question, commercial use inquiry, or an article idea? Send me an email, nancy.perry@policeone.com.

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